Institutionalized Oppression as Explicated Through Atlantic City

By Danny Thompson

Within our current-day political climate, there has been great room for discussion in regards to the powers and entities which rule over its people. This has led some to believe that our government structure has become one resembling more of an oligarchy. In a structure such as this one, a small group of specific individuals have control over an establishment, such as a country, and fail to represent the ideals and morals of those which they rule over. With a government consisted predominantly of upper-class, white males and drastic inequalities in regards to race, gender, and economics, it is easy to see where this argument of the United States resembling an oligarchy stems from. Moreover, with broken and corrupt institutions set in place throughout the nation, such as the police force or the prison system, it soon becomes evident that racism is not just a social problem, but it is institutionalized within our very society. This concept is further explicated through the examination of Atlantic City, utilizing it as a lens to see further into the reality that is systematic oppression and racism.


1940 map of redlining in Atlantic City, NJ deeming the North Side, a primarily Black neighborhood, as hazardous. (Photo: Press of Atlantic City)


One blatant example of institutionalized segregation and oppression within the context of Atlantic City is the practice of redlining that occurred within the city. This discriminatory practice made it impossible for Black folks to move out of crippling areas of the city due to the installation of higher rates within alternate areas – making these red-lined areas deteriorate by proxy. In an the Press of Atlantic City, Steve Hughes further illustrates the social implications of such a practice saying, “Atlantic City’s historically Black neighborhood, the Northside, is best known for its thriving nightlife and entertainment scene during the city’s heyday. Today it is among the poorest areas in the city and has one of the highest concentrations of Black residents. It contains most of the city’s low-income apartment complexes. Poverty levels among Black residents range from 36 percent to 73 percent, according to U.S. Census data.”  Through this we can explicitly see a systematic, financial oppression being instilled upon the people of Atlantic City once the casinos were established within the city.

Northside of Atlantic City, NJ, redlined on 1940 map. (Photo: Press of Atlantic City)

Coinciding with this is the institutionalization of racism prevalent within the police force and legislature, following the era of Ronald Reagan. The heavy emphasis on the “war on drugs” targeted those who were faced with the realities of financial inequality and resorted to the underground economy in an attempt to break away from this inequality. There exists a stereotype that people of color participate in this underground economy more than those who perceive themselves to be white, and ultimately, the police force further expressed this racial inequality and racism through a drastic increase of incarcerations of people of color.

With the police force subscribing to this false narrative of race and racism, it is evident that there exists many social injustices within Atlantic City, such as the construction of the casinos and this apparent shift of attitude toward the city itself. It is imperative that these struggles are brought to the forefront of discussion in regard to systematic and institutionalized oppression, so a larger conversation can be had, and thus, change can have the opportunity to occur.